In the Community

Dulce Bravo: One of Matthews' Newest Firefighters

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Monroe resident Dulce Bravo plays an essential role in Matthews; she’s a firefighter for the Matthews Fire & EMS Department. 

Of the firefighters in the US, only 7% are women. There are eleven women in the 84-person Matthews Fire & EMT Department, including one paid full-time firefighter, three firefighter/EMTs, and seven EMTs. Of the twelve Fire Corps members, a whopping 25% are women.

Bravo, as her coworkers call her, is that one full-timer. 

Thanks to a budget increase for the Matthews Fire & EMS Department in 2018, Bravo was one of eleven new hires. Her strong sense of community and her eagerness to serve brought her to Matthews.  She loves the small town friendliness and being able to support the community in an integral way. 

It was a chilling experience that led Bravo to emergency services: a friend died in front of her. That friend, she believes, could’ve been saved with CPR. It’s an experience that led her to train to save lives and etched in her a firm belief that more people should be trained to perform CPR. 

She first trained as an EMT and started responding to calls, but as she watched firefighters going into burning buildings she realized she wanted to be the one to do that--the first to go in to help, the first to administer first aid. Waiting was not for her. Bravo studied, trained, and became a certified firefighter. Her first job was as a volunteer in the Monroe Fire Department. 

In a field where technology continually improves and levels the physical playing field, more and more women are joining fire departments. Gone are the days when it was thought a firefighter had to be able to throw a someone over their shoulder to carry out of a burning building. Newer techniques and lighter gear make it possible for someone who can’t bench press their own body weight to pursue a firefighting career. 

Still, fighting fires and saving lives is not a job for the faint of heart. It takes sharp thinking, quick problem solving, and the ability to communicate and work as a team. While working, firefighters must maintain composure under tremendous pressure, and, of course, be strong. The protective gear alone can weigh 45 pounds, add a fire hose or ladder to that and the added weight can be 100 pounds or more. Bravo may not bench press an elephant, but we still wouldn't challenge her to any feats of strength.

Even after realizing there may be challenges as a female in a male-dominated field, Bravo knew a career with Matthews is for her. Before joining, she wondered if being a woman would matter. Having  been in Matthews for several months now, she says of the department, “They’re supportive, patient, and they don’t make you ‘feel like a girl.’”  What Bravo has found here is camaraderie, respect, and a group of people who are first and foremost dedicated to helping others.

Photo courtesy the Matthews Fire & EMS Department

Photo courtesy the Matthews Fire & EMS Department

Rezoning: Bainbridge Matthews (Matthews-Mint Hill Road)

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Land clearing has begun for Bainbridge Matthews, a future development located on Matthews-Mint Hill Road near Butler High School. This land was formerly the Oakhaven Mobile Home Park, Overcash homestead, and Query Homestead.

On December 11, 2017, the Board of Commissioners approved Rezoning Request 2017-663 with Higdon, Miller, Ross, Whitley and Urban in favor and Taylor and Melton opposed. The property, totaling 30.752 acres, was rezoned from R-12, O(CD), R-MH, RU, and BH to R-12MF(CD).

(What do those zoning codes mean? There’s a chart for that.)

Now demolished, the Overcash home, built in 1921, had significant remodeling and was therefore not a good candidate for historic preservation or relocation. The barn was in fair condition, but the Town had little need for it after repurposing the Idlewild Road barn. A log cabin on the site is likely over 100 years old was offered to the town for historic preservation. The cabin will need some reconditioning.

The multifamily Bainbridge Matthews complex consists of 350 rental units, including both apartments and townhomes. Two pocket parks will flank the entrance at Northeast Parkway and will be available for public use daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The developer will construct the portion on Northeast Parkway that will run through their property, as well as a multi-use path on one side and a sidewalk on the other. The developer has accounted for 18 bike parking spots throughout the complex.

Though not noted on the original staff report, in October 2017 the Planning Department added the following information:

  • CMS indicates this project will generate 128 new students for Crown Point Elementary, Mint Hill Middle, and Butler High School. by this project.

  • The trip generation report indicates a total of 2,245 cars per day.

Bainbridge will preserve at least 15% of the existing tree canopy (a minimum tree save of 4.79 acres) as directed by R12-MF zoning. The majority of tree save is along property boundaries.

In the process of approving any new development the board discusses the affect on town services, the tax base, and projected tax revenue from the project. Prior to development the tax revenue was $16,700 (total for both parcels), the anticipated tax revenue (after construction) is an estimated $128,000.

If you’re looking for the Cliff Notes version, here’s a handy dandy summary:

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Matthews Community Farmers' Market: Putting the Community in the Farmers' Market

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Open year-round on Saturdays (rain or shine), the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market kicks off its 28th year this Saturday. Originally a tailgate market open in spring and summer, the market eventually expanded into winter hours. With the spring schedule in full-effect, the market will be open from 8 a.m. to noon until late fall.

To kick off the season the market has Chef Jamie Lynch (of 5Church and Top-Chef fame) booked to provide a cooking demo. Chef Lynch will make something decidedly mind-blowing with ingredients sourced at the market prior to his demo. Riley Nelson will provide a musical backdrop of ukulele and guitar throughout the morning. Come with an empty belly and grab an Austro-Hungarian breakfast pretzel from the ever-popular StrudelTieg food truck.

Because everything is grown, raised, or made within 50 miles of Matthews, (the exception is fish, which is caught off the North Carolina coast by the fisherman selling it), you won’t see baskets of bananas or avocados. Everything is in season and fresh from the farm, often harvested a few short hours before you buy it.

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It’s a little easier to know what’s in-season if you garden, but for those of you who enjoy eating more than digging, here’s a general idea for spring crops:

Leafy greens including lettuce, spinach, endive, arugula, and mizuna; root vegetables such as beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips; cole crops such as cabbage, broccoli (and broccoli raab), kale, collards, and cauliflower; some peas and beans—think edamame and sugar snaps; leeks, green onions, and fennel also make an appearance; growers with a greenhouse might even have a few tomatoes at their stands.

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There will be plenty of free-range chicken eggs, meats (including lamb), as well as cow’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses, and cultured butter. If you’re suffering from the sniffles, put some local honey on your shopping list.

If you’re a gardener, plan out your plots. The market farmers offer plenty of transplants, some Certified Organic, to start your garden, including tomatoes, edible herbs, and soil-building comfrey. Windcrest Farm, one of the first farmers in the area to grow turmeric and ginger, will have “seed” to start your own. Save room in your home garden for a rhizome colony of both Hawaiian Red and Indira Yellow turmeric.

Make sure to budget a little extra for the locally made handmade goods. Have you been admiring the bee sculpture at the Country Place pocket Park? Artist Amy Hart will have her colorful, garden-centric sculptures for sale. Madison Woodworks will have an array of hand-carved spoons and bowls that are functional works of art.

This Saturday, grab your reusable totes, a wallet filled with cash (many vendors accept cards but cash saves them the processing fee), and put on comfy shoes. Even if you’re not shopping, you’re bound to see some familiar faces. The conversation will be good, and the veggies will be even better.

Nonagenarians: Matthews Neighbors in Their Nineties

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The first Wednesday of every month a motley crew of ninety-something-year-olds gathers in a common room of the Willow Grove Senior Living facility for the Nonagenarian Club. With 23 residents in their nineties (and eight 89-year-olds), it's common for the attendees to change from month to month. Some are already friends, but many are meeting for the first time.

Willow Grove is more like an apartment complex with nice amenities than the drab “senior housing” of ages past. The residents are self-sufficient and come to the community rooms for social time (BYOB Happy Hour is an apparent fave). It’s an interesting dynamic when the group gets together: there are polite introductions and some small talk. Without facilitation, there’s no immediate topic that arises from a similarity in age. It takes time, casual conversation, and sharing stories, then the commonalities arise.

She fondly remembers her “uncle” Sam Newell - a family friend who carted her on the back of his mule to Doc Mac’s office (now Zab’s Place) when a copperhead bit her toe.

Both Ruby McLeod (nee Hargett) and Peggy Outen grew up in Matthews and have known each other for most of their lives. If you’ve been in Matthews a few years, you may recognize their “old Matthews” last names. Ruby was one of eight siblings, and the only one in the family delivered by the Dr. Reid. She fondly remembers her “uncle” Sam Newell - a family friend who carted her on the back of his mule to Doc Mac’s office (at the corner of Trade and John) when a copperhead bit her toe.

Others, like Jo Martin and Mary Bruce Austin, are from the area, but not Matthews specifically.

With more conversation, more commonalities arise. They all agree that they like Matthews, that the area is changing rapidly, and, after a recent group outing, Cheesecake Factory food wasn’t up to the hype.

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Among the nonagenarians and centenarians, there are nearly three women for every man. Naturally, the majority of club members are women. This month, one quiet man sits at the head of the table: Tracy Johnson. Whether he wants to share or not, the others at the table have lots of questions followed by a little bit of teasing. Tracy, a career marine, has stories of flying past US Presidents in HMX-1 Helicopters and talks proudly of his three kids - all of whom graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill.  At 97, Tracy spends his time painting and familiarizing himself with Matthews from the drivers’ side of a sporty red BMW.

Peggy Outen and Florence Ferko

Peggy Outen and Florence Ferko

This age group has lived through conflict, seen spouses off to war, and waited for their return home: World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and for the career military, the Gulf War.

Florence Ferko, a World War II war bride, married at 18 and followed her husband to the US. Her accent and mannerisms are still heavily British, and enjoys coffee served in a teacup. In contrast, Betty Hans was born and raised in Long Island to German immigrant parents. Hearing Long Island caught the attention of Ruth Koss, whose home was just outside of Newark, New Jersey.  It didn’t take long for the conversation to shift to regional foods challenging to find this far south.

Aside from food, it’s the mention of the military that amps up the conversation. Marguerite Bonney’s husband spent two years in the army, Ruby’s husband was a POW in Germany for 15 months. Jo was born and raised in Charlotte but spent six years traveling with her Air Force-enlisted husband. The military connections make sense, though. This age group has lived through conflict, seen spouses and friends off to war, and waited for their return home: World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and for the career military, the Gulf War.

Despite disparate interests and hobbies, the commonalities have now been found, and the chatter is lively. The women discuss their travels, their kids (for those that have them), and the towns and cities they called home before Matthews. For Ruth, North Carolina just seemed like a good place to live. For others, they moved here to be closer to their families. Others still never left, showing their lifelong love of Matthews.

And that one man sitting at the head of the table, remains fairly quiet, simply enjoying the time with his fellow nonagenarians.

Tracy Johnson and Ruby McLeod

Tracy Johnson and Ruby McLeod

2810[high]5: Places We've Been

There’s always something going on in Matthews, and while we can’t cover it all, here are a few highlights from the past couple weeks.

Saint Patrick’s Day weekend was the soft opening for Grace O’Malley’s (157 Trade St.). Like any good neighbor, we nosed our way in to see what was going on. The staff, of course, graciously extended a warm, Irish welcome.

 

After attending Matthews 101 in the fall, Renee signed up for Civics 101, the Mecklenburg County introduction to local government. The five-week class covered some Charlotte topics, but provided a more in-depth look at the county, though Matthews came up a surprising amount. Topics included, among others, the justice system, the school board, and county government.

 

Good Cup and The Loyalist have been hosting pop-up markets for the past couple of months filled with vendors who lovingly hand create products. We’ve been to all of them, and the community just keeps growing. What a terrific way to support local folks.

 

We tried out a free Matthews Concert Band concert when on the hunt for live music in Matthews. The band is much larger than expected, and the show was an absolute delight. It’s a family-friendly experience, and well worth going to if you’re not sure your kids are ready to sit through the full value of a symphony ticket.

 

We’re at as many Town Council Meetings (and planning conferences) as possible, and when we’re not, we’re watching/listening online. Some are longer than others, and some are way more entertaining than others, but nothing beats being there in person to see and hear what’s going on.

 

Rezoning: 10252 Monroe Road

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Land clearing began last week for Residences Galleria (formerly called Proximity Matthews), the apartment complex going up across from Family Dollar on Monroe Road. The project is a 250-unit rental community consisting of both multifamily buildings and townhomes.

The developer, Taft Development / Income Investments, LLC, applied for rezoning in September of 2016. The 21.668-acre property at 10252 Monroe Road was zoned R-VS (residential, varied style with a higher density). The 2016 application requested rezoning to R-12 MF (CD) (residential, multi-family, conditional use).

On February 13, 2017 five members of the Board of Commissioners (Taylor, Melton, Higdon, Miller, and Whitley) voted in favor of approving rezoning application 2016-652. Commissioner Ross opposed. Commissioner Urban, also the architect on the project, was excused from voting.

In 2015 a rezoning application for a 350-unit development on the same property was unanimously denied (Taylor, Pata, Higdon, Melton, Miller, Query, and Ross).

Residences Galleria will contain garden apartments ranging in size from 750 square feet for a one-bedroom to 1350 square feet for a three-bedroom. The townhomes will be two- and three-bedroom.

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In addition to the building construction, Taft will place a concrete pad Charlotte Area Transit System stop on Monroe Road. They have also committed to constructing a portion of Sardis Greenway along the rear of the property, between the new development and Sardis Forest neighborhood. Plans include moving the current street-adjacent sidewalk along Monroe Road will be moved further back onto the property. While the agreement for rezoning included saving the mature trees near Monroe Rd. many of those trees were cut down. Taft will pay a fine to the Town of Matthews in the amount of $150,000 for a violation of the rezoning agreement.

The project includes means for protecting the historic Rosedale Cemetery such as removing dead plant debris by hand, a perimeter fence, and an easement for public parking for access to the cemetery.

Though requested, Town Staff had not received a response from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in time to be included in the Staff Report presented to Town Council. According to CMS, this project will add 80 new students: 51 at Greenway Park Elementary, 12 at McClintock, and 17 at East Mecklenburg High. According to 2017 data (when the project was approved), this project will put the schools at 133%, 82%, and 112% capacity respectively.

Read also:

Matthews' Own Giving Tree

From one woman’s nostalgia for Halloween TV specials of the past, a Matthews mascot was borne.

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If you’ve traveled down Pineville-Matthews Road past the Elizabeth Lane intersection in the last few months, your attention might have been grabbed by a pop of color among the brush lining the road. What started as a surprise Halloween decoration has grown into a seasonal delight for the community, thanks to the efforts of a mystery decorator.

Ms. M (for Mysterious!) prefers her identity to remain a secret, but she shared how the decorating began. “I drive past that stump every day and probably did so many times before I actually noticed it. This was around Halloween, and as we rode past all of the sudden it hit me, that stump reminded me of something from Charlie Brown’s The Great Pumpkin and Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, two cartoons that I loved as a child, and even now as an adult. I told my husband that lonely tree stump was just begging to be dressed up!” Her little idea became a family affair, as her daughter bought and decorated the original pumpkin that made the stump’s “head” and her granddaughters have helped her with some of the decorations.

There was a mishap post-Halloween when one of the branches came down. Ms. M continued to decorate it with just one arm and was surprised and delighted when a stranger reattached the branch with screws and a brace. “I knew it meant something to other people as well. I’d love for that person to know how appreciative I am for that gesture.”

Her efforts continued through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day, and if you drive past this month be sure to catch the stump’s St. Patrick’s Day garb.

Lori Kuhlman, a local runner who passes the stump regularly, has enjoyed the stump’s rotating outfits. “It’s so clever, and I hope this person is having as much fun dressing the tree as the rest of us are admiring it.”

For Ms. M, comments like those keep her going. Neighbors have stopped to thank her when she’s caught in the decorating act, and someone left a note at the tree, thanking her for making their day. “For me, that’s the purpose of the tree stump; to bring a little happiness, a bit of joy, and a smile.”If you’ve traveled down Pineville-Matthews Road past the Elizabeth Lane intersection in the last few months, your attention might have been grabbed by a pop of color among the brush lining the road. What started as a surprise Halloween decoration has grown into a seasonal delight for the community, thanks to the efforts of a mystery decorator.

 
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After Halloween, one of the branches either fell off or was broken off and I just fixed it up with one arm. When someone reattached the branch with screws and a brace, I knew it meant something to other people as well. I’d love for that person to know how appreciative I am for that gesture.
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Photo credits: Carolyn Trott (pumpkin) , Lori Kuhlman (pilgrim, snowman), Renee Garner (leprechaun)

Photo credits: Carolyn Trott (pumpkin) , Lori Kuhlman (pilgrim, snowman), Renee Garner (leprechaun)

Bintou Ceesay: The Muscle Whisperer

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

In her childhood homeland of Gambia, Bintou Ceesay’s grandfather would make his grandchildren massage his feet at the end of a hard day. When her own mother was pregnant and took a bad fall, Bintou watched her remedy this by placing warm, wet towels on her aching low back. Growing up, her father placed high value on a healthy lifestyle and always being active. The importance of eating right, self-care, and all the other aspects of “maintaining the physical being” became a high priority in Bintou’s daily life.

At age 15, during a time of great political unrest, her parents sent her to live with her sister in Maryland. By 21, she yearned to be with schoolmates and enjoy better weather, so she moved, again – this time to Charlotte.

More than a handful of years later, she had her first professional massage – an experience which set the course of her life in an entirely new direction.

“When I got my massage, I said, ‘That’s incredible, when done the right way!’ ” So, she set out to investigate this as a possible new career, with the idea that she might offer this same experience to others. Within a few years, she had signed up for massage therapy school; nine years ago (during her pregnancy!), she received her license.

Bintou, 40, is now in her sixth year as a full-time professional massage therapist. Having lived in Matthews for more than two years and working in town for six, Bintou finds it to be “a good balance of location and a good balance of people.” She says it has also provided a home for both her family and her business. “Matthews has a lot to offer!” Bintou said.

But, it is her love of massage combined with her love of helping people that fuels her passion for getting up and going to work each day. “This is a career that is very much tied to who I am as a person,” said Bintou. “The muscles and anatomy are underappreciated and overlooked. Massage is the perfect balance of everything.”

“I believe in [this],” she said. “They come and try massage therapy and find it meaningful for themselves...addressing the whole being.” Recently, a client asked her how she knew where to focus on.  She responded with a laugh, “You can call me the ‘Muscle Whisperer.’”

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Saint David's Day: A Primer

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Though it’s not in our Five Pieces of Beacon, we believe the more parties the better, especially if there’s food involved. So let's press pause on the Saint Paddy’s plans for a second, and add another celebration to the calendar.

I hadn’t heard of Saint David’s Day, or perhaps hadn’t realized it’s significance, until a cocktail with a roasted leek popped up in my Instagram feed. I’m unsure if it was the leek or the liquor, but suddenly I had to learn more about my new reason to celebrate on March 1. Enter Alistair Williams, part owner of The Portrait Gallery in downtown Matthews, and a local expert on all things Welsh. He gladly took a minute to give me the Saint David’s Day Cliff Notes.

David, a monk in the 6th Century AD, helped spread Christianity across the country and was later named the Patron Saint of Wales. It’s the equivalent of Saint Patrick for Ireland, Saint George for England, and Saint Andrew for Scotland. Just as Saint Patrick’s Day is a holiday in Ireland, so is Saint David’s Day in Wales.

What’s with the leeks, though? In a battle between the Saxons and the Welsh, it became difficult to tell which side the soldiers were fighting for. One observant monk started plucking leeks for the Welsh soldiers to wear, and the stinky allium later became a national symbol, typically tucked in buttonholes on Saint David's Day. Fortunately for our noses, over time the odoriferous vegetable has been replaced with another, less offensive flowering bulb, the daffodil.

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But we know what's really important here at the Beacon, so let’s talk food. What do you eat for Saint David’s Day? Obviously anything with leeks. Alistair also quickly listed a handful of other items unfamiliar to my southern ears: Rarebit, with a Welsh accent, sounds a lot like rabbit, but rest assured it’s beer cheese and not Bugs. There’s also a lot of lamb on the menu, as well as crempog, the Welsh version of a pancake.

While the cocktails aren't listed anywhere in Wikipedia's Saint David's Day summary, we do have to talk about the cocktail that caught my eye: muddled roast leek, cachaça , hazelnut liqueur, with citrus. Sounds like if you drink a couple of those Saint David himself might speak to you.

Donna Sappington: An Artist's Heart

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Artist and Matthews-resident Donna Sappington’s success as an artist is the result of talent, authenticity, and following her heart.

A military “brat” who has lived all over the world, adventure is the seed for Donna’s creativity. Her spirit is palpable and a large part of the charm imbued in her artwork.

Donna came into art mid-life. After a long career in department store retail, staying ahead of trends and behind the scenes as a fragrance buyer, Donna jumped ship to follow her heart and pursue her passion for creating and selling her own art.  Perhaps that buying stint instilled in her the optimistic directness that is necessary to navigate life as an artist.

That metaphorical jump paired well with her literally jumping ship: Donna is an avid diver. Her adventures underwater often inspire sea-themed paintings that guide the viewer through a different world, an underwater universe where the paint on her paintbrush is the tour guide.

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Whether working out of her home studio or with her arts family at McDowell Arts Center, Donna is building a cohesive portfolio with seemingly disparate approaches. Be it an abstract poured-painting of water, a rhinestone mixed-media canvas that recalls the pattern of a sea urchin, or a fanciful fairy sitting on a toadstool, each piece has Donna’s signature style, her own authentic artistic fingerprint. Under the moniker Tangled Line Designs, Donna’s paintings are, in fact, made of tangled lines, but with a charming deliberateness that takes her work far beyond doodling.

With each piece, Donna grows more and more sure-footed. As an artist, she’s always pushing to do better and perfect her approach. While there’s always a note of those zentangles, the doodling style that brought her into art, it’s an eye for color and pizzazz (without becoming garish) that are evolving into something spectacularly Donna.  Often applying a hint of flair that hearkens back to her corporate days, glitter and rhinestones add a whimsical touch and bring Donna’s imaginative fairies and mermaids to life. 

Donna and her art are colorful proof that following your heart leads to adventure and inspiration. 

Black History Month at the Library

In honor of Black History Month, staff at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library have some suggested reading (and viewing) to help you learn about and explore the people and moments that have shaped our collective past.

HistoryMakers

Check out The HistoryMakers Digital Archive, an oral history collection highlighting the accomplishments of individual African Americans and African-American-led groups and movements.  It is unique among collections of African American heritage because of its large and varied scope, with interviewees from across the United States, from a variety of fields, and with memories stretching from the 1890s to the present.


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Adult Nonfiction


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Adult Fiction

  • Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, the story of a young slave woman’s bid to escape the Antebellum South, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

  • Jesmyn Ward won the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction for Sing, Unburied, Sing, an exploration of history and racism through the lens of a multiracial family in the rural South.

  • Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson, was a 2016 National Book Award finalist; it is a picture of life for a young African American woman growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s.

  • Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers, winner of the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, tells the story of a Cameroonian immigrant’s pursuit of the American dream in Harlem in 2007.


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Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction

  • Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down, longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, takes place during an elevator ride of a 15-year-old boy determined to avenge his brother’s shooting death. 

  • Monster, Walter Dean Myer’s classic, tackles issues of race, class, gender and the judicial system with a 16-year-old black teen on trial for murder.

  • Dreamland Burning, by Jennifer Latham, tells intersecting stories of present-day Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

  • Tony Medina’s I Am Alfonso Jones is a tale of police brutality and Black Lives Matter told in graphic novel format.  

  • Presented in graphic novel format, the March Trilogy is Congressman John Lewis’ narrative of his experiences in the civil rights movement.


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Pre-Teen Fiction and Nonfiction


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Picture Books

In the Resources section of our website you’ll find Books & Authors, where you can browse the complete list of winners of the Coretta Scott King Award, which recognizes African American authors and illustrators who express the African American experience in works for young people.

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Introduce little ones to important figures in African American history with picture books like: 

Meet Your Neighbors: The Milledges

Photo courtesy Sarah Milledge

Photo courtesy Sarah Milledge

In 2011, when Sarah Milledge (née McAuliffe), now 37, met Jermaine Milledge, now 34, the disparity in their lives couldn’t be greater. She came from a small town. He came from a big city. Sarah is Caucasian and petite and loves to talk. Jermaine is 6’7”, was working on a Master’s Degree (she had her BA), is African-American and doesn’t love to talk. He is also a few years her junior.

“It was like ‘yin and yang,’ “said Jermaine.

What they did share was a common employer (State of Michigan); the fact that both had lost their fathers at an early age and, most importantly, that both are blind. Sarah suddenly lost her vision from Type I diabetes at the age of 23. Jermaine has been visually impaired since birth.

What they found, together, was love, commonality, a life dedicated to promoting awareness of the possibilities for those experiencing vision loss (and other disabilities) and the importance of community, diversity, and inclusion.

Together, they have a handful of degrees, certifications, sit on several state boards and have significant job experiences to their credit. (They both also sit on the town’s Diversity Council). Moving to Matthews four years ago for work has been a blessing. They recently purchased a new home in town which they share with Sarah’s Yellow Labrador, Echo, 12.

“Community is huge,” said Sarah. “We get a lot of help from a lot of people in Matthews. We love Matthews.”

Today, the pair knows they are role models for others with challenging disabilities. “It’s not something I tried to be,” said Jermaine, “but you just become that by having certain successes. You kind of become a trailblazer in a way. To show people that you can succeed despite barriers.”

“We advocate every day for ourselves and our clients who are also visually impaired,” said Sarah. “Living in a world with disability – that won’t stop. We’re always setting goals; I think we have empathy. We know what it’s like to be misrepresented; to overcome barriers.”

In the end, it is their love and connection that will remain. “I absolutely love my husband,” said Sarah. “We work so well together as a team…. There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. We have climbed the mountain. We feel like we have an army around us with family and friends.”

From the Schools: How Students are Becoming More Politically Involved

Student involvement is significant for this reason: the next generation of Matthews’ leaders, who may now be sitting in a math class, could one day be elected to Town Council.

On January 28th, the annual Charlotte Women’s March rallied up in Charlotte, North Carolina, with participants holding up slogans and attentively listening to the day’s speakers. This was a community of people coming together to raise awareness about their concerns regarding equal rights. What many may have been surprised to see was the large amount of student-aged participants at the March.

“I was blown away by the amount of people under the age of 18 who attended.” said Carmel Christian senior, John. “It was so cool to see and meet people who were forming their own opinions about real issues and being passionate enough to make a stand,” he said.

Now more than ever, students in Matthews, North Carolina, have the means to become more politically aware and involved within their community.

It was so cool to see and meet people who were forming their own opinions about real issues and being passionate enough to make a stand.
— John, high school senior

With the recent shooting at David W. Butler High School, conversation about gun control has been amplified locally. “I wanted to do something with all the intense emotions I was feeling about what happened and to turn my anger into something productive,” said Butler High School junior, Hope, explaining her response to the shooting. Because of her desire to make her voice heard, Hope took the initiative and reached out to a representative through NCgv.org, an organizational group against gun violence in North Carolina. Once a meeting is facilitated, she will be able to formally discuss her concerns regarding gun-control with a Country Representative.

In light of Hope’s actions to make a difference, a similar trend has been seen of student participation within the political world, a realm that has been traditionally occupied by adults. Mecklenburg County Commissioner in district six, Susan McDowell-Rodriguez, has noticed this upswing of student involvement. “I have gotten to speak to kids at Butler, Providence, and South Meck {high schools}.” she said. Following the Parkland shooting, Rodriguez notes that, “like the kids in Parkland who raised awareness, the kids in Charlotte-Mecklenburg have {raised awareness} as well.”

Photo by Joanna Albanese Schimizzi

Photo by Joanna Albanese Schimizzi

Within her role as County Commissioner, she has witnessed how students have helped at organizational and precinct meetings by “handing out literature, going door to door- things like that.” According to Rodriguez, the types of students who are getting involved are a mixed bag. “I think it has been a lot of females, there are a number of guys as well, but it’s about 60/40.... all different kinds of kids,” she said.

The question posed to Rodriguez is, can the students who are getting involved actually make a real impact? The most effective way that students can be recognized, according to Rodriguez, is, “when kids show up for stuff and ask questions at Town Council meetings- {the students} who have researched and thought about issues- I think it’s super powerful,” she said.

As well, Rodriguez believes that students play a large role in reminding those of voting age the significance of their vote. “Kids can be very powerful with reminding adults about things concerning the future, like gun control and the environment,” she said. The overall benefit of student involvement is that is it adds to the amount of people who genuinely care about politics. “I think anytime we can get people more involved, it is a good thing- starting them young is great because it increases participation in the future.” Rodriguez said.

I think anytime we can get people more involved, it is a good thing- starting them young is great because it increases participation in the future.
— Susan Rodriguez McDowell

As a final note, Rodriguez emphasizes that one of the most important things a student can do is to, “combat apathy,” meaning to fight against an attitude of not caring. “A lot of people are apathetic about politics- they think, ‘oh well,’ and lose interest,” said Rodriguez. A way to change this attitude is to have open conversations about politics. For students, they should have those important discussions about more serious topics, like gun control. “Tell them why things matter to you- they [will] think about things differently,” she said.

“It’s about the future and it’s about these kids who are coming up,” concludes Rodriguez. Student involvement is significant for this reason: the next generation of Matthews’ leaders, who may now be sitting in a math class, could one day be elected to Town Council. We should recognize the power of the student voice, as it is the voice of tomorrow.

Meet Your Neighbors: Caren Carr and Tony DiRamio

We had to make a decision. I didn’t know how much time we’ve got. People say, ‘Why did you get married, you could go so soon!’ But, it doesn’t matter. We can have happiness.
— Tony DiRamio
Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Approximately, five years ago and within a one-year span, Caren Carr’s spouse of 16 years and Tony DiRamio’s spouse of 42 years passed on after struggling with terminal illnesses.

As a Catholic and a Jew, respectively, neither Tony, now 77, nor Caren, now 67, knew the other except in passing at the monthly Hospice and Pallative Care Charlotte Region Support (HPCCR) Group meetings. With family in various places across the country, neither had local relatives to count on. More importantly, both had just experienced the grief of losing long-time loves, and both already had long-established full lives in Matthews.

So, when the support group ended, in early 2015, Tony attempted to continue getting the group together – this time, at a local restaurant. Only Caren showed up. The meal lasted a full two hours with much discussion, reminiscences, and reflections on loss and grief.

Six weeks later, they went on a joint transatlantic cruise ship together. Six months later, after dating exclusively, Tony asked for Caren’s hand in marriage.  “I was very surprised,” said Caren of the proposal. “I said, ‘you don’t have to tell me tonight,’ ” said Tony. “I didn’t [answer] him right away,” reflected Caren.

“After being married for 42 years, it was kind of lonely living in the house,” said Tony. “I didn’t [just] want to live with someone. I wanted a long-term commitment. I’d been married my whole life and I had a lot of life ahead of me,” said Tony.

“We weren’t looking for this, but we had something in common because we’d had loss,” Caren said. “I started being his friend; he started being my friend.”

tony and caren by cyma shapiro 2.jpg

While they considered an elaborate wedding, a suggestion at the county clerk’s office to keep their names made them consider an easier path – finding a judge or magistrate available immediately and determined by day. “I said, ‘let’s get married tomorrow,’ ” said Tony. The pair went to a jewelry store that afternoon to pick out rings and asked a neighbor and her husband to stand as witnesses for them.

The next day, they visited the magistrate (working) in the local jail. They brought $20 in cash to pay for the ceremony. The neighbor brought a cake from Publix. They were married on October 28, 2015.

When asked later about the event, Tony joked to friends that they “had about six hundred people [in attendance], but most of them were wearing orange suits!”

And, in answer to people’s judgment about their marrying again so soon, or even at all, after the loss of spouses, Tony is clear: “The grief is still there. Just because we got married doesn’t mean that we don’t have feelings [about our previous lives],” he said, noting that they both had good marriages. “We go thru a process; we talk about it sometimes. There are still certain things you have to get over.”

We weren’t looking for this, but we had something in common because we’d had loss.
— Caren Carr

Having lived for a few years in Caren’s old home, last January, they moved into their new home, together. Now, they share a love of travel, of going out to restaurants, and of living in Florida for a few months/year each winter. They also share religious traditions and visits to their respective houses of worship.

“In older age, it’s different than when you are younger,” said Tony.  “We had to make a decision. I didn’t know how much time we’ve got. People say, ‘Why did you get married, you could go so soon!’ But, it doesn’t matter. We can have happiness.”

“We’ve been married four years. I’m happy,” he said. “It’s very difficult to change a lot of habits. She has her [ways]; I have mine,” said Tony, stating that in the end, they “work it out.”

“But, it’s a really happy story,” added Caren.

At their passing, the couple will bequeath money to HPCCR. “We’re so grateful for meeting and for the care our spouses got,” said Caren.

Journalism Classes: Giving High School Students a Relevant Voice

High school and middle school journalism classes go beyond reporting and play a large role in developing well-informed, future citizens who know how to navigate difficult topics.

covenant day.jpg

In a culture that puts so much emphasis on individuality, students today have become more and more aware of themselves and how they fit into the world around them. In our corner of the world, Matthews, NC, students have an excellent outlet for self-expression in journalism in the classes offered at Carmel Christian High School and Covenant Day Middle School.

Not only do high school and middle school journalism courses give students a voice to report on what is relevant to them, they also help to inform them on what they are speaking on and how to best articulate it.

A high school class that gives an idea of what journalism entails, Carmel Christian High School has provided its second year of journalism with journalism and creative writing teacher, Jennifer Dixon, who teaches students the different aspects of journalism through the units of photojournalism, headlining, writing captions, and law and ethics. This class mirrors a real-life news organization with a student-run news website. For the 48 journalism students at Carmel Christian, there are two levels that are divided into different classes: a Journalism 1 course, for beginners, and a Journalism 2 course, for those who have already completed one year of journalism.

In the pursuit of truth, journalism keeps those in power honest. It is especially important in teaching students about the freedom of the press and that they have the constitutional right to have their voice represented.

This separation exists as a division of labor, placing 39 of the total students as writers in Journalism 1 and the remaining nine students as editors in Journalism 2. Those in Journalism 1 function under a “spiral curriculum” that continuously revisits each topic taught, each revisit becomes more in-depth during the course of the year. As well, they learn to take assignments and develop their voice in articles. Those in Journalism 2 practice more freedom in reporting for their student news. Journalism 2 is like a “life lab,” according to Dixon, where “[students] manage our website, they set the direction of the website, and do a lot of editing- they also do a lot of news writing and recording.”

“Journalism helps you gain more knowledge about the press and what's going on in today's society and how it all works,” said Journalism 1 senior at Carmel Christian, Tyler Caldwell.

carmel christian.jpg

An imperative part of this course is how it teaches students the critical role that journalism plays within society. In the pursuit of truth, journalism keeps those in power honest. It is especially important in teaching students about the freedom of the press and that they have the constitutional right to have their voice represented.

“The most significant thing I can teach them is that they have the power to communicate and the power to understand and the power to play a critical role in our democracy,” said Dixon.

According to second-year journalism student at Carmel Christian, Kat Uribe, Carmel Christian’s journalism class, “ is valuable to our school because we do not have any electives that help us to express ourselves- most of them are not something you can be an individual in. Finding your voice is something teenagers appreciate, we always want to express ourselves. In journalism, you have more freedom to express yourselves; it is age appropriate.”

According to Covenant Day Middle School coach, history teacher, and now journalism teacher, Zach Turner, the school’s first journalism course was started this year in the 7th grade. At present, there are four participating students. His class has focused on writing, grabbing the attention of the reader, and answering the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, how, why). As of now, his class has moved on from the basics of writing to a radio reporting unit, where they are hoping to be able to record short news reports.

As with Dixon, Turner sees the value in teaching middle schoolers journalism because it shows them, “what is actually going on.”

While teaching, Turner has noticed how his students have taken interest in current events saying that, “There are times we will be watching or reading an article and the students are blown away by some of the things going on in today’s world – good and bad.”

Although Turner’s class is less focused on the formalities of journalism, as it is at a middle school level, he finds that his students are eager to give it a try. “They don’t care about the history or the tech right now – they just want to write or read news.” The class exercises their reporting abilities by writing about current school news, such as the middle school play, retreats, and sports.

As one of the students…I can say we are lucky to have teachers here in Matthews who are willing to give students a way for students to express themselves. I can truly say that it has helped me grow both as a writer and as a person.

This course helps to both develop a student’s voice as well as equipping them with skills that they will use later on in life. The skills that are taught are applicable to interacting within a work environment, especially to those who may consider journalism as a possible career path after high school.

Dixon emphasizes, “They learn a lot of things that translate to the workplace, like collaboration, how to handle disappointment, and how to creatively solve problems.” Even at the middle school level, Turner reflects similarly that his course, “teaches working under pressure which is a skill everyone needs- no texting, no calling, you have to do it face to face for the most part. I feel like that is lacking in a lot of people today – that personal, one-on-one, look-you-in-the-eye and talk part of communicating.”

High school and middle school journalism classes go beyond reporting what people may except, like the latest results of a sports game or the student honor role- they play a large role in developing well-informed, future citizens who know how to navigate difficult topics and address them consciously.

As one of the students in Carmel Christian’s journalism class, I can say we are lucky to have teachers here in Matthews who are willing to give students a way for students to express themselves. I can truly say that it has helped me grow both as a writer and as a person.